“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young — a place near your altar,
O Lord Almighty, my King and my God!” ~Psalm 84:1-3
For the Israelites of old, the temple in Jerusalem represented both the physical and spiritual dwelling place of God. The temple is where God lived; it was his throne and his footstool; it’s where his people gathered to meet with him in worship and praise, in sacrifice and service. If one wanted to experience the presence of God, if one wanted to be near to God, he or she went to the temple. Of course, everybody wants to be near to God. Everybody wants to be in his presence. So everybody goes to the temple. Even the birds of the air make their nests in the temple eaves, they lay their eggs and hatch their little bird babies as close to the altar as they can get. Everybody wants to be near to God.
And God is in his holy temple.
Our understanding today is that God, by his Holy Spirit, actually dwells inside each one of us as his dear children and disciples of his Christ. We, the Church, are the temple of God. His presence is within us. And I would never attempt to equate our church building here at 1401 South Monroe with the temple in Jerusalem. The differences are at once obvious and numerous and beyond enormous. But when God’s people come together in his presence, in the name of his Son, and by the power of his Spirit, he does meet with us in a special way. He is present with us together on Sundays in our church buildings in ways that he is not present with us otherwise. There is something unique happening. We can’t put our finger on it, we have a difficult time defining it; but we know.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before his God.” ~Psalm 84:5-7
I imagine that God is the one who gathers us together on Sunday mornings. I imagine he blesses his people as they iron their shirts, as they match their socks, as they feed the kids, as they search for their Bibles and the car keys during that hurried early morning hour. He is the one who calls and gathers and blesses. People don’t come to the church building because the preacher called. They don’t gather because the elders or their friends brought them here. It’s God. God calls us to gather as his community of faith and worship him. And as we drive down I-40 and negotiate Washington Street with all of its lights, as we arrive from north, south, east, and west Amarillo and beyond, as we pull into our parking spot, God is preparing us. He’s reminding us. He’s getting us ready to experience his presence in powerful ways we haven’t since the Sunday before.
“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” ~Psalm 84:10
This church building at 1401 South Monroe is a place where God’s people do regularly experience his presence in profound ways. We discussed this together as a staff earlier this week. After reading and praying through Psalm 84, each of us named two or three places — physical places — around here where we encounter God’s presence. During baptisms on a Sunday morning. Praying with newly baptized believers behind the baptistry. At funerals. During the congregational singing. During the sharing of communion. While watching kind brothers and sisters helping one another up and down stairs, opening doors for each other, cleaning up somebody else’s spill. While spontaneous prayer circles break out in the worship center. In our youth group’s Huddles and Muddles. When we do anything in the old chapel. Walking by Mark’s office while he ministers to a broken young man or a woman who’s lost all hope. Listening to the children laugh at Kid’s University downstairs.
Our God lives here at 1401 South Monroe. Yes, I know, he dwells inside each one of us in powerful and mysterious ways. The ways our God lives with us and in us today is a marvelous fulfillment of his eternal covenant promises. It’s more than any of us could have possibly imagined. It’s so wondrous that even “angels long to look.” It’s so much better now — indescribably better — than when God’s presence was only experienced at the temple. But that doesn’t discount in any way the fact that our God, yes, does indeed live here in our church building, too. Yes, he does.
Where and when in your church building do you really, really, really feel the presence of our God?
See you Sunday,